Shibori on Knits:
A Single-Minded Exploration
Mie Iwatsubo, Bulb Bags, 2001; felted wool;
circles of fabric stitched and dyed; 80 by 80 inches.
Shibori is the traditional textile process that roughly translates
as "shaped resist dyeing." While examples of the technique
can be found around the globe, the word itself is Japanese,
and it is often the textiles from that region that are most
associated with the process. Young Japanese designers such
as Mie Iwatsubo have embraced traditional techniques while
remaining determined to explore new applications for contemporary
For Iwatsubo, shibori is the single textile technique she
has explored since she first became interested in textile
design. While it may be easy to question the breadth one can
attain from such a narrow base, Iwatsubo's dedication has
led to a high level of expertise and a healthy curiosity for
opportunities that marry the process with other techniques.
Iwatsubo explains, "It is important to innovate or develop
the shibori [technique], adding new methods to make it contemporary
and more individual."
Iwatsubo holds a B.A. in textile design (2000) from the Musashino
Art University in Japan and an M.A. in fashion and textiles
(2001) from Nottingham Trent University in England. Now based
in her native Japan, she has continued to develop her exploration
of shibori with work that is strikingly organic in both color
and form. Everything is made with natural fibers, which she
feels lend themselves to the organic shapes created by the
shibori technique. Colors are chosen for "harmony with natural
materials, as they are appropriate for organic shapes." While
"organic" may sound like a commonplace, almost lazy, description,
in Iwatsubo's case the richness of color and molding of form
are so evocative of natural growth that the phrase is inescapable.
The newness lies in the saturation of color and the depth
of the pleated grooves that cover the surfaces of the bulblike
bags and heavily veined scarves she creates.
|Leheriya (detail), 2001; lambs' wool, natural rayon
viscose; plating (knitting technique), Indian resist binding/dying;
180 by 40 inches.
Where Iwatsubo departs from traditional methods is in her
choice of fabric. Rather than using a woven fabric, Iwatsubo
applies a combination of shibori dyeing and felting to knits.
Unlike woven fabric, knits have a lateral elasticity that
makes the pleats and gathers that act as the resist respond
differently than in a woven fabric.
Iwatsubo is ultimately at ease with the lack of control that
characterizes shibori dyeing. She explains, "Even though it
is time consuming and is difficult to mass produce, I depend
on this risk factor as it is an essential part of shibori's
unpredictable beauty. I never hate risks. If anything, I enjoy
manipulating these risks."
Jessica Hemmings, a doctoral candidate at the University
of Edinburgh, holds a B.F.A. in textiles and writes frequently
about textile art. She teaches in the English department at
the Rhode Island School of Design.
NOTES ON TECHNIQUE
|In these examples, Mie Iwatsubo has used cotton or wool
threads to stitch her hand-knitted fabric into tight pleats
or gathers before dying. In most cases, the stitched threads
are removed after dying, revealing patterns where the
dye has not fuly penetrated the fabric.
|Momiji ("Maple Leaf")
For the Momiji pattern, the knitted fabric is pleated
and stitched tight. The eyelet pattern of the knit creates
small holes through which the threads can be sewn. When
pleated, the knitted fabric takes on the shape of a Momiji,
which means "maple leaf" in Japanese. While this type
of shibori pattern is traditionally made by immersing
the pleated fabric in a dye bath, Iwatsubo prints a discharge
dye onto the pleated ridges. This alternative technique
allows the dye to penetrate only the surface of the woolen
knit. As a result, the shibori-resisted pattern is much
sharper than the soft patterns created with immersion
|Sara Sara ("Stream")
The name of this silk-and-linen fabric is inspired by
the smooth noise it murmurs when moving over the body.
The hand-knitted fabric is sewn into pleats, dyed (adding
color), discharge dyed (removing color), overdyed (adding
color again), and finally smocked or pleated.
|Up and Down
Here Iwatsubo combines shibori with felting to set the
resist pleats in place. The cotton scarf is knitted in
an eyelet pattern and stitched with woolen threads. The
woolen threads are then felted and shrunk, creating permanent
Komasu ("Small Square")
This scarf was originally inspired by the traditional
technique Komasu shibori. As for Momiji,
the base knit has an eyelet pattern. The irregular color
is created through a multiple dye process. In this case,
the shibori threads are unraveled three times; with each
new stitching, a different dye bath is used.